Have to Wonder

I spent a few minutes in the car today, and clicked on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross.  Terry was interviewing Shepard Fairey, who created the now-iconic poster of Barack Obama during the election.  The “Hope” poster looks kind of like a Che Guevara poster, but that’s an essay for another day.

Mr. Fairey made his name at least in part with “street art”, which some of us call “graffiti”.  He was justifying on National Public Radio painting on other people’s property.  He said he only painted on abandoned or boarded up properties, but there is a simpler word for it.


I’m all about art.  I like it, though there’s a great deal of it I don’t understand.  I enjoy walking through a gallery seeing the classics, and some modern art is OK. Art is like wine, really.  If you like it, it’s good.  If not, it’s not … no matter what anybody else says.  But this so-called “Street Art”, while it may be well done and even classically inspired, is just vandalism if it’s not done with the property owner’s permission.

I’m not sure how some people justify this in their heads.  Sure, it’s a victimless crime.  Nobody gets hurt.  So why should anyone care?  To me, it goes back to a fundamental, basic question:  Do you own it?  If the answer is “No”, then you don’t have a right to paint it without the owners permission.

And then, where do you draw the line?  I know the garage wall at mom’s house in Bedford was tagged several times.  It was odd in my little town seeing what could have been interpreted as gang signs on my mom’s property.  It seems to me that celebrating one as a street artist who only vandalizes abandoned and boarded-up buildings lends legitimacy to those who’ll tag public buildings, private walls, overpasses, and water towers.

So can you draw a distinction between ‘Street Art” and tagging?  I honestly don’t think so.  If you paint it, and you know you shouldn’t, it’s not art.

I know it’s harder to go ask permission.  It takes away some of the thrill of creating your work under cover of darkness wondering if you’re going to be hauled off to jail for your efforts.  But while it might be easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, getting permission means you’re not asking for forgiveness from a judge for your “Art”




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Filed under Art, Thoughts, Vandalism

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